MESA, Ariz. – This was the spring-training postcard to send back to Cubs fans: Jeff Samardzija, Edwin Jackson and Matt Garza throwing off the mounds at the same time.
The scouts in town for the organizational meetings lined up behind the fence to watch The Big Three. The audience at Fitch Park on Wednesday included manager Dale Sveum, pitching coach Chris Bosio and Cubs executives Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer, who made starting pitching their No. 1 priority this winter. Cameras recorded every pitch.
[RELATED: Edwin Jackson will be in the middle of it all for the Cubs]
The rotation is full of moving parts, but Sveum sees Scott Feldman as the No. 4 starter to begin the season, and doesn’t expect Scott Baker to be ready by Opening Day as he recovers from Tommy John surgery.
“Feldman’s going to be one of the starters,” Sveum said Thursday. “There’s an above-average chance Baker’s going to probably start a little bit late, just because you don’t want to really rush him. There’s no need for anything like that.”
Sveum also added “there’s no guarantees” beyond Samardzija, Jackson and Garza, who was shut down last season with a stress reaction in his right elbow and has to be considered a question mark.
[RELATED: Samardzija banking on another breakthrough year]
Baker didn’t throw a pitch for the Minnesota Twins last season, so the Cubs could start him on the disabled list in April and ease him into the rotation.
Travis Wood is the only left-handed option for the rotation, which could give him an advantage. Carlos Villanueva – who was told he’d have opportunities to start over the course of his two-year, $10 million contract – could be ticketed for the bullpen because of his solid track record as a reliever.
[RELATED: Villanueva sees Cubs going to the next level]
The Cubs promised Feldman and Baker the chance to re-establish themselves as big-league starters and signed them to one-year deals last November. They then pivoted and pursued Anibal Sanchez before signing Jackson and Villanueva, who said he’s preparing to throw 200 innings this season.
Feldman had already been squeezed out of the Texas Rangers rotation and appeared to be in the middle of another numbers game.
“I was honestly excited about it, because I want to be on a good team,” he said. “Every team that is successful has a lot of pitching depth.”
It has been an up-and-down ride for Feldman, who won 17 games for the Rangers in 2009. He became their Opening Day starter in 2010 and posted a 5.48 ERA that year. He missed the first half of the 2011 season recovering from knee surgery.
Feldman went 6-11 with a 5.09 ERA in 29 games (21 starts) last year for a loaded Rangers team that followed up two straight American League pennants by winning 93 games.
“I don’t hold anything against them,” Feldman said. “It was just kind of the circumstances. If I was in the front office and had to make some decisions – who knows? – I might have done the same thing. I’m glad that I’m turning the page and looking forward to the season here.”
The Cubs want to create the appearance of competition in Arizona, but right now it looks like it will be The Big Three plus Feldman to start the season.